Archive for the Screenshots Category

The Sacred Mechanisms

Posted in Dungeon Generation, Gameplay, Graphics, Rambling Tangent, Room Connectivity, Screenshots on December 5, 2011 by sfahy

At the moment I’m working on developing the basic combat system. Combat is largely predicated on player attributes and equipment, but I want to introduce a level of more immediate strategy. By allowing the player to execute resource limited special moves during combat, the focus is shifted towards the strategy employed in each encounter, rather than just a long term min maxing of stats.

Another area I’ve been doing a lot of work on recently, and am particularly excited about, is the variety of mechanical devices that will be littered about the dungeons.

The machines can be interacted with in different ways. For example, the Translocational Impeller pictured, at it’s most basic mode of interaction, teleports the player to a random location in the dungeon. More advanced modes of interaction are possible, such as teleporting an enemy, teleporting to a specified location, charging an item with a teleport spell and so on.

The advanced modes of interaction are opened up as the player’s character and the game progresses, and allow the dungeons to gradually increase their depth of interaction without dumping complexity on new players.

The machines create the potential for emergent interaction with the dungeon itself. For example, there could be machines that flood rooms with poison gas, or heal everyone in a certain radius, or enchant a weapon according to what item is fed into it, or really do anything that can be done within the bounds of the gameplay system.

The machines will also allow the game to add twists to existing mechanics, for example a machine that suppresses spell effects in a radius, that can be modified by the player to amplify them, or to only suppress enemy effects.

The temptation is to go full on dwarf fortress mode and create a vastly complex system with incredible depth that inspires fear and trembling in all who behold it, but I think that by gradually introducing new interactions with character progress, and above all presenting a clean and context aware interface, the depth can be captured without the complexity. I think the most important rule of thumb for this and all the gameplay systems is that the player should not need a wiki in order to use this.

Once gameplay becomes tied to specific areas in the dungeon, however, the danger arises that the player will attempt and fail to navigate. For example, with the spell suppressing machine example, an obvious strategy for a combat oriented character would be to lead spell-casting enemies to it and attack them. But the player doesn’t have the same high level overview of the environment as in a traditional roguelike, and the absolute last thing I want in the game is to have the player wander aimlessly through the level, endlessly searching for a visited area.

The level generation process uses square rooms as it’s unit of synthesis, maintains a directed graph of parent to child room relationships, and only connects, combines, populates and furnishes rooms once every room has been placed.

Structure could be introduced at the graph level, for example creating a chain of rooms with one entrance and exit at either end. At the moment, every room is connected to every room that shares a wall with it, which creates an environment that is relatively easy to navigate in any direction, but that is formless – It can be difficult to identify landmarks and backtrack.

A lower level solution is to attempt to introduce texture rather than structure.

2D Perlin noise is generated across the level and used to modulate the dimensions of any rooms generated at a given location. This results in a sort of compression and rarefaction of room size across the level, with smaller rooms clustering together and creating a kind of ambient structure in the level that makes orientation easier without attempting to impose rigid patterns.

A combination of both these approaches should hopefully make directed navigation  possible without encouraging it.

On the graphics side, I’ve been experimenting with the idea of using a simple directional shadow map that would anchor the scene together without being an accurate reflection of the lighting. This would save a lot of the resource and complexity overhead of omnidirectional shadows, but the downside is that it’s horrible and it looks horrible. Horrible.

I think after a lot of intense graphics programming I feel a lot more confident that I can get a decent implementation of dual parabaloid shadow mapping into the game. Light sweeping through doorways into the darkened rooms beyond is a really cool effect and adds to the vibe of being alone in a hostile environment. Also it resonates with the torchlight effect used in so many roguelikes, and if this game is about anything, it’s about heritage.


Targeting, Combat and Colours

Posted in Gameplay, Graphics, Screenshots on November 3, 2011 by sfahy

Boom !


Things have progressed a lot since my last post, and it’s really starting to take shape as a game.

I’ve added a targeting system, which takes into account both proximity and what direction the player is facing. So if you’re closer to enemy A, but looking right at enemy B, you’ll target enemy B. unless enemy A is right beside you.

It will be possible to switch targets quickly when this system fails to target the enemy you want.

The targeting system is critical because it’s the mechanism for engaging in combat. Combat will be abstracted – you target an enemy, and hold down the attack button. The frequency of attacks, whether you hit or miss etc. will all be functions of your character data.

The idea is a kind of pseudo real time that won’t be dependent on reflex but won’t be immersion breaking. I think turn based gameplay works best when the gameworld is largely abstract. When you see textured 3D models just standing there looking at each other, your mind automatically asks the question “Why?” and the immediate answer is that it’s just a game and they’re just textured 3D models.

Also, a roguelike that requires reflexes for combat is blasphemy, and I’ll have no truck nor traffic with such travesties.

I’ve added hue shifting to the shader, so armour and weaponry can have their colours changed with a shader update. There is a mask texture which allows regions of the textures to be exempt from hue shifting which is good for preserving skin colour and specific materials.

I am undecided as to whether an item’s colour should be a reflection of its game properties. It looks really cool to see a bunch of people with different armour colours, but making colour a purely aesthetic attribute would be passing up an opportunity to provide great intuitive feedback.

Enchanted equipment would be comparatively rare, especially at first, which would mean that a lot of armour would look similar. This would put more weight on different texture variations as a means of keeping things interesting. Also, there will be a lot more variation in the kinds of enchantments than colour can reliably express.

I think a viable solution may be to create several textures for each armour type that correspond to its function, so it’s easy to identify enchanted chain mail by the runes inscribed on it or whatever, and keep colour variation across everything.

The animation system is largely developed and integrated and I can spawn a bunch of enemies to stand around the dungeon doing nothing. At the moment I can have more enemies on screen than are likely with no framerate impact, so all is well in that regard.

Animation objects are fed Actor objects, and update themselves to reflect the Actor’s state. Actors have Controllers which update their state – an actor can be assigned a controller which updates it based on player input, or AI, or conceivably network messages. This system keeps state, logic and rendering code nicely encapsulated away from each other.

I’ve added a resource manager which does a pretty good job of keeping resource fetching abstracted from game logic.

Every game resource is marked up in a textfile, and is basically marked up as a keyword (“stone_block”, “padded_armour”) and the resources it uses (“diffuse:  stoneTex2” etc).

If the game needs an iron sword model, it can call something like GetStaticModel(“sword_2”) or whatever. Everything the game needs to load from disk is reduced to a text key, and the messy interrelations between assets are contained in the textfiles.

This can be extended to game data objects as well, for example items and enemies can written directly in mark-up, with all the data objects necessary to render them specified by a single keyword.

It’s very easy to change the look and feel of a level by simply loading a different textfile which maps keywords like “stoneBlock” and “floor” to different assets.

I’m resisting the urge to overgeneralize this system, it already covers the games needs so far and what’s important is that it remains flexible and extendable rather than catering to every possible necessity.

Anyway, that’s it for now, I’ll try to update this blog a bit more frequently. Thanks for reading !

Animation, Character Rendering and Overall Progress

Posted in Dungeon Generation, Graphics, Screenshots on September 30, 2011 by sfahy

The animation system is now largely in place and a basic character model has been created. It’s pretty clean and well separated from actor data and game logic, and common functions like attaching additional meshes to bones can be done with a minimum of hassle.

Characters (and their equipment ) use a different shading model than the environment. The models are not normal mapped, and the diffuse texture is painted rather than composited  from photographs. A second diffuse texture is created from the first, with the colors shifted to cold colors, and these two textures are interpolated between by the diffuse lighting result, which is exaggerated.

The idea is basically similar to gooch shading, but with diffuse textures instead of solid colors.

There are a number of reasons why I decided to take this approach. Like in gooch shading, the models will not become more difficult to see when they are in shadow. Visibility will be further enhanced by the contrast in styles between the characters and architecture.

I want the game to have an otherworldly, dream like ambiance, and a rendering approach that verges away from realism, but stops short of being cartoonlike, is helpful towards achieving this.

The main impediment to realistic, normal mapped characters is the sheer time overhead. While it’s doable to an extent, it would greatly lessen the amount of overall content that could realistically be produced for the game (already a very small amount).

This expressive approach to character visuals will also help prevent the onset of grimdark.

My next target for development is to build a resource manager, and to extend the simple markup language used to define static game objects to cover the definition of characters and other asset types.

After that, I plan on implementing simple enemy behavior – A* to the player and attack. This should be enough to start testing and adding nuance to how the underlying game data interacts and to begin the process of slowly refining a tight combat system.

I’ve already created the process for adding new kinds of room to the dungeon, and specific types that are necessary or highly relevant to the core gameplay dynamic will need to be implemented.

The high level system which controls the density of specific room types will have to be created, as well as systems for populating rooms with enemies in an enjoyable manner.

While there will be some decorative cruft, such as statues or whatever, I don’t want to have meaningless detritus or crates full of nothing all over the place. Every object should have an obvious gameplay function, or obviously lack one.

Once the player can explore, fight and die, the game will have reached it’s first big milestone and will finally be at the prototype stage. After that, aggressive user testing and constant tweaking of gameplay dynamics, with the aim of reaching a simple, solid, fun gameplay dynamic, will bring the game to it’s second prototype. From there, the addition and balance of final enemy types, items, room types and gameplay dynamics, and copious amounts of polish, will get it to alpha. After that it’s just bug fixing and polish, as well as a period of larger scale testing in beta.

I hate to hang a time frame on development, because I’ve never developed anything of this magnitude before and any time estimate would be a complete guess. Things have been progressing very quickly, though. The codebase is showing no signs of blechery as of this point, the most difficult technical challenges have been solved to a decent standard and the whole things seems to comming together nicely. I would like to have the initial prototype stage reached before Christmas. At the current rate of progress it seems likely that I will.

Also, by a process so complex it verges on black magic, I’ve managed to create an ambient sound-scape  that fits the mood pretty well. I’ll write a post attempting to explain how it was made.



Dummy Models, Improved Meter Bar

Posted in Graphics, GUI, Screenshots on June 9, 2011 by sfahy


The ‘@’ symbol was mildly amusing for a while, but I got sick of looking at it, so I made a dummy model for testing purposes. I didn’t bother unwrapping it well or making a proper texture or anything like that, and the mesh isn’t that detailed – the model is really just for development purposes. The actual game assets will be much better, I swear to god.

It came out at ~1000 polys, and I subdivided it to ~6000 just to push the polycount a bit more. With a 2048*2048 diffuse texture I can render about ~100 of them before the framerate starts to dip. I realize that to assume that animated models, with gameplay logic, will run anything near this is dangerously optimistic, but as far as I can judge there’s plenty of performance leeway left. I’m using a GeForce 7900 gtx, a five year old card, which I recon is a relativity accessible standard to tune performance to.

The actual assets will probably for the most part have a much lower polycount than 6000, with a lot of the detail baked into normal maps. I think it’s important visually, because the models will be viewed from far away, that they have strong flowing lines in their topology, that exaggerate and strongly delineate the human shape they’re representing. There’s no point in spending polys on elements that will only ever register as noise.

I plan on making the armor and weapons in the game pretty colorful- I’m bored to death with seeing Grimdark the MurderKing’s bloodstained brown platemail in every roleplaying game I play. I know that most of the screenshots so far have been pretty dark, but the game overall will be more colorful than they would suggest.

The meter bar can now interpolate between two bar colors as the value it’s representing changes. I made this exponential, so as, for example, your health, starts to come close to zero the bar starts changing from gold to red. A gradual, linear shift towards red beginning the moment you start loosing health would lessen the impact of the feedback.

I plan on implementing shadow mapping soon, maybe even just unidirectional at first. You can get the sense from the above screenshot that the models appear to be floating – the eye can’t make an exact judgment about where they are in the scene. Shadows ground the models in the scene very well and give everything a more integrated appearance.

I really don’t want to jump into the graphics programming too much yet though, because it obsesses me and I need to be spending time on other systems at the moment.



Posted in Dungeon Generation, Screenshots on May 28, 2011 by sfahy

The dungeon now features nicely rounded corners. This was added through the tile query/replacement system, a use I hadn’t anticipated for it, and it worked without having to add any crufty code. It uses the same objects and processes as any other element. I’m really glad I took the time to design a robust system for using assets procedurally, as sprouting new systems every time I want to add a new rule would really stink up my codebase.

I’m going to force myself to move on to more gameplay oriented aspects for a while, like room connectivity, because I could literally spend forever adding little architectural variations that don’t directly relate to the gameplay, and the game must ship. Still, it’s really cool to see things come together visually a bit more.

I’m really excited about the gameplay- I want to combine the things I love about rougelikes with a more action oriented style of interaction and a few trippy ideas about progression. The high level of proceduralism and clean division of the game code into separate systems means that experimenting with different gameplay ideas should be feasible, and implementing sweeping changes in response to testing should be possible in a short space of time. I really want to have the magic system integrated to the point where it can operate in natural but unexpected ways.

For example, arrows are controlled by a simple physics system, and one really cool thing that happened while I was screwing around was that when using a spell that causes objects to be attracted to you, arrows that come near your character are pulled into orbit around you, meaning that you can collect a swarm of arrows and walk up to an enemy, or release them all in the middle of a crowded room. This is an emergent quality of the physics, magic and projectile systems and to me is a lot cooler than a “swarm of arrows” spell that your character craps out on command.

On an utterly unrelated note, I think i’m going to replace the small coble stones with flagstones, as they’re too noisy and don’t read well when moving the camera at speed.


Posted in Dungeon Generation, Room Connectivity, Screenshots, Uncategorized on May 27, 2011 by sfahy

Just a random screen dump from the game as it now, the dungeons are still bare, I don’t want to start adding “furniture” until I have a robust system for distributing it logically in appropriate rooms, as well as a good design for the game logic that underpins it’s use.

Below, you can see a directed graph showing how each room is connected. The overall connectivity forms a tree structure that fans out from the center. The next stage in dungeon generation will be to examine this graph and connect branches of the tree to each other in a manner that results in an easily navigable dungeon. I’d like to have this happen in a manner I can easily control, for example to specify the optimal cycle size in the graph and the generation system approximate this. The important thing is that I end up with a variable or small set of variables that I can tweak, because only testing will reveal what level of room connectivity will be most fun to play.